SAMIR TABBAH, CEO DESERT GATE
Please tell us a little about your career so far?
I came to Dubai in the early 1990s to buy some goods for my family’s hotel and was introduced to some people from the local travel industry. I decided to move to Dubai and in 1997 set up my own destination management company (DMC) with a local partner. I was very lucky to be intimately involved in the explosive growth of the destination (Dubai). In 2008, I sold the company to a global tourism powerhouse and I stayed on as CEO for the region until 2013. The entrepreneurial vein runs deep and I felt that I wanted to launch a new company, which honours traditional values with some great modern twists.
You have more than two decades of experience in the travel and tourism business. What attracted you to the sector?
My family is from Jordan. They were traders and operators of hotels. I suppose I was bitten by the hospitality bug early in my career. When I first arrived in Dubai, I fell in love with it and saw the amazing tourism potential. In life, it is about being in the right place at the right time and I was lucky enough to be on the crest of the first tourism boom in the region. I was captivated by the sheer, raw beauty of Oman and its cultural heritage.
Tell us more about your company, Desert Gate?
Desert Gate was set up in 2004 as a supplier to many of the frontline tourism companies in Dubai. We opened our own camp, acquired our own vehicle fleet and from then onwards the company became known as a quality supplier in the sector. As my tenure was coming to an end with Kuoni, I took a long hard look at my life, my team around me and decided that I needed to expand Desert Gate in another direction. We decided to aim at the higher sector of the market and transformed to a premium DMC. Although we all know that the latest technology and systems are necessary, I believe very much in the human touch, something that a lot of people have forgotten about. Starting with myself as group CEO, and running throughout the whole company, we are totally “guest-centric” with a real emphasis on listening to our partners and guests and aiming to surpass even the highest of expectations.
You are opening the second Desert Gate office in Oman in June. Why did you select the Sultanate for your next outlet?
Oman is the next tourist hotspot in the region. I am enamoured with the Sultanate. It has so much to offer and is still relatively unspoilt. From day one, I knew our next office would be here.
Tourism is booming in Oman and competition is growing. What will make your company stand out in the crowd?
The Desert Gate group is known for its service across all of our destinations. We want to connect guests with the real Oman, so we are focusing a lot of effort at increasing touch points between our guests and the locals in all our itineraries. In addition to our hallmark human service, we will also be the first Omani DMC to have a comprehensive online booking system.
What destinations or attractions in Oman do you think should be on every visitor’s must-see list?
Oman has such a wealth of things to see. Must-see’s that should be on everyone’s bucket list include Nizwa City, Grand Canyon of Arabia and Jebel Akhdar, Al Sharqiya and the desert camps and, finally, Sur to see the marvellous turtles.
If you could wave a magic wand to make your dream holiday, where would you go, why and what would you do?
My dream holiday is somewhere where everyone in my family is happy, where there is a great mix of relaxation, sightseeing, history, nature and culture. For me to mix all these things is Utopia. I also love to try local food, experience local traditions and breathe in the local ambiance.
What alternative career or job could or would you do?
Apart from being a full-time father, that is a very difficult question. I love to work with people and help them fulfill their dreams (in this case their holidays), so I suppose anything that lets me do that.
Lastly, you’re a very busy man but when you’re not dashing around making other people’s leisure time wonderful, how do you like to relax?
As I mentioned above, all my spare time is spent with my wonderful wife and four children. That is the most relaxing thing for me. Of course, bashing a tennis ball around for a few hours is also good fun.
Business is all about partnerships – with your suppliers, business partners and internally with your staff. These partnerships all need to be in place to give the best possible experience to the guests. If any partnership breaks down, the guest experience will suffer.
I believe greatly in transparent partnerships, relationships and the power to work together. Without these good relationships, all the agility, systems and innovation that we have will just not work.